Vermont Public Radio comment for Thursday July 11th, 2013

INTRO: The removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected president by the Egyptian Army has provoked violent reaction from his Moslem Brotherhood supporters. There are fears this could lead to civil war. So what should the United States be doing? This morning, commentator and veteran ABC News foreign correspondent Barrie Dunsmore offers his perspective.

TEXT: What should America do about Egypt? Well, I would actually agree with then Governor George W. Bush, who in a debate prior to the 2000 presidential election, had this to say about how America should conduct itself in the world. “If we are an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us. If we are a humble nation, but strong, they’ll welcome us. Our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that’s why we’ve got to be humble.”

Unfortunately, as president Mr. Bush’s policies were anything but humble. However the invasion of Iraq and the eight plus years of war that followed ensure that Bush’s successors in the White House have no choice but to show humility. Yes, America is still unquestionably the most powerful country in the world, but the long, basically unresolved wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have dramatically demonstrated the limits of raw military power. We especially see this as the Middle East undergoes profound changes.

In the wake of the Egyptian Army’s ousting of President Mohamed Morsi, there is apparently bipartisan agreement in the Congress that the U.S. should suspend further military aid to Egypt which runs at about $1.5 billion a year. I confess to being an agnostic in that debate. But I would note that America gives about twice as much aid to Israel with no noticeable impact on Israeli policies. So perhaps we shouldn’t expect aid to give Washington great leverage with the Egyptians either.

Right now American military aid is probably not foremost on the Egyptian generals' minds. In an action the Obama administration tried to discourage, the Army overthrew Morsi in the belief that it would restore stability to the country after a year of economic collapse and political chaos. Morsi’s unwillingness to force his Moslem Brotherhood to share any real power with secularists, moderates and Christians is why more than half the country cheered his overthrow. But the Brotherhood’s strong resistance to the Army’s action is now pushing the country toward serious civil conflict - even civil war - and I can’t imagine the generals want that to happen.

What America can do right now is engage in quiet diplomacy. It is particularly important that the United States not be seen as taking sides - even though right now each side claims America is backing the other.

Yet if Egypt is to avoid a civil war and restore an improved democracy within a year, Morsi supporters and the Moslem Brotherhood must be participants. Quite frankly the US doesn’t have much influence with that group but it should be quietly encouraging the liberals, the secularists and the military to go out of their way to reconcile with the Brotherhood. Morsi’s release from captivity along with some of his recently arrested colleagues might be a place to start.

It is worth repeating what candidate George W Bush once said, “If America is arrogant, they will resent us.” That is one statement by the former president I would wholeheartedly endorse.


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